In Part 5 of this study of natural selection we will look at what Darwin called “the doctrine of Malthus.” Here is how Darwin explained it: “This is the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms. As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected.” [Britannica Great Books of the Western World, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor in Chief, Volume 49 Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, 1952, Page 7.]

Biblical creationist author Milt Marcy writes: “Finally he [Darwin] read Thomas Malthus’ Essays on the Principle of Population in September of 1838 and made the declaration, ‘I had at last got a theory by which to work.’” Marcy continues, “Malthus’ basic premise was that in nature, population tends to outstrip the food supply…Darwin saw Malthus’ ideas as his key to natural selection, and he began to branch out to other sources of competition besides food, such as sexual attraction, etc.” [Marcy, Milt, The Emperors Who Had No Clothes: Exposing the Hidden Roots of the Evolution Agenda, Create Space Publishing, 2013, Page 141.]

With these two quotes we have Darwin and Malthus in a nutshell. But there is much more to the story of how Darwin became so enamored with the doctrine of Malthus. Malthusian ideas were being applied to the struggling mid-nineteenth century British society as a whole in a grand way—not just by Darwin to his natural selection hypothesis. For example, a fiercely independent lady author of the day who wrote popular articles, Harriet Martineau, was catching the fancy of the societal elites as she promoted reforms advocating sexual restraint as a way for the poor to escape starvation. She wrote about passion, delayed marriage, and heroic prudence rescuing couples from extreme poverty and the poorhouse. “[Lady Martineau’s] editing homilies spread the word of the Revd. Thomas Malthus, an economist for the East India Company. The core of his theory was bleak: as population rises faster than food supply, struggle and starvation must inevitably result. Public charities—the old poor relief—only aggravated the problem; hand-outs made paupers comfortable and encouraged them to breed. More mouths, more poor, more demands for welfare—it was a vicious cycle.” [Desmond and Moore, Darwin—the Life of a Tormented Evolutionist, Warner Books, 1991, Page 153.]

(The more things change the more they stay the same. In America today our societal elites promote the advantages of abortion, euthanasia, and same sex marriage as partial solutions for what they perceive as a societal need for control of those they consider to be our current marginal population problem.)

Darwin did not live in a bubble, and this population societal problem was constantly on his mind. And Darwin had witnessed the tendency for European settlers to exterminate native tribes during his long voyage on the Beagle. “Destruction was becoming integral to his Malthusian view of humanity. ‘When two races of men meet, they act precisely, like two species of animals—they fight, eat each other, bring diseases to each other etc., but then comes the more deadly struggle, namely which have the best fitted organization, or instincts (i.e., intellect in man) to gain the day.’” [ibid, Page 267.]

As Darwin worked to develop his natural selection one can see how he advanced a perversely miserable and destructive concept of life and the world. This was “survival of the fittest” at its worst. (Marx and Hitler would later develop these exact ideas to perfection.)

“The cogitations on Malthus continued. Darwin was pulling the implications out like stretched wire…he had every tissue, every organ, ‘capable of innumerable variations,’ with nature selecting the best. More and more he realized the irony of perfection arising from cut-throat competition. The perfect adaptive nuance was ‘the surviving of one of ten thousand trials—each step being perfect or nearly so…to the then existing conditions.’…out of millions that perish comes the one perfect being.” [ibid, Page 272.]

Now we can understand what happened to Darwin’s love of William Paley. “How different from Archdeacon Paley’s ‘happy’ nature in his Natural Theology. The world had been turned upside down in fifty years. Seen through Paley’s rose-tinted spectacles, it was a continual summer’s afternoon. But no longer…as those on the sharp end had been hammering away at Paley’s image for ages. Working-class agitators had denounced Paley’s pernicious justification of the status quo…At Downs [residence] Darwin peered hard into nature’s ‘horridly cruel’ face; the time had come for him too to challenge Paley, whose words he had once embraced. Seen through Malthusian spectacles, the parsonage garden became a battlefield.” [ibid, Page 449-50.]

So, the Malthusian hypothesis not only seemed to Darwin to reinforce his natural selection, but at this time in history British society was moving along in tune with it as well. Darwin had more confidence now and was getting close to publishing his book on the origin of species. Malthus had won the day. However, natural selection was not yet so well established.

Next time in Part 6 we will consider if Malthus was correct about population. If he was not correct or his doctrine were to become unpopular, what effect would that have on Darwin’s natural selection?

The LORD said, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” [Genesis 8:22 NIV.]

J.D. Mitchell

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